Portsmouth 2 Sunderland 1: Kyle hands a lifeline to Portsmouth

Penalty pushes Redknapp's men towards safety
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The Independent Football

Kevin Kyle's determination to turn his life into a grim farce goes on. Having led the line well in his first start since suffering a scalded scrotum in an accident while preparing his baby's bottle, he was suddenly, and absurdly, possessed - two minutes from time - with the urge to raise his left hand to a ball that was already heading out of his own box. Matthew Taylor converted the resulting penalty to give Portsmouth a victory their profligacy had looked like costing them, and they now stand two points clear of Birmingham, a place above the relegation zone.

"I couldn't quite believe it," the Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp, said. "It's the first penalty we've had all season, but you need that luck sometimes. It happens. We went to Charlton last week and murdered them and got done in the last 12 minutes."

That luck certainly has not been with Sunderland this season. "We have to step back and try to understand," said the Sunderland manager, Kevin Ball. "I asked the big man why he did it, and he said it was just a reaction. I told him that it was a reaction that had cost us a goal and a point, but I also said he'll learn from it. I did that once here when I played for Portsmouth, and the coach at the time, Frank Burrows, told me I'd learn from it and I did."

Whether he would have been quite so philosophical had Sunderland not already been relegated is debatable, but, as he said, his side did play with pride. Briefly, they even dreamed of a third victory of the season, and possibly even cast a thought to avoiding the stigma of breaking their own record low of 19 points for a Premiership season.

Ball claimed somewhat implausibly that "Portsmouth were there for the taking", but when they took the lead with 20 minutes remaining, Tommy Miller rolling in after combining with Julio Arca, there was a distinct sense of unreality. Not only was it their first meaningful opportunity of the second half, but the only reason they were not facing a deficit was the excellence of Kelvin Davis - his unhappy start on Wearside now firmly in the past - and woeful finishing from the ever-hapless Benjani Mwaruwari.

If there is one thing that Sunderland do worse than taking leads, though, it is holding them, and Pompey were level within three minutes. Svetoslav Todorov had been almost as ineffective as Benjani in front of goal - and he had been the unfortunate second party in a quite brilliant double save from Davis. But Todorov then managed to hold off Dean White-head on the corner of the box, cut inside and curve his finish into the top right-hand corner.

"He'd had a couple of chances before that," Redknapp said. "He's normally a clinical finisher, but he's struck that one in."

Then came Kyle's aberration. The Scotland forward looked mortified, but Portsmouth were grateful. "Last week we were three points clear, then level, and now two points clear," Redknapp went on. "The difference now is that when we go behind we come back. Whatever happens now we've given it a go. We're not going out with a whimper."

Neither are Sunderland: they are going out with a Kyle-inspired burst of self-mocking laughter.